Eighties Nostalgia

In preparation for the release of Terminator 4 Movie (I am a big fan) I made my poor wife watch the the first three movies within one week (we managed two so far, one to go) so we can go to watch it together in the cinema.

The sight of Linda Hamilton's hair in T1 gave me a severe attack of eighties nostalgia. All clothing items must be rolled up: long sleeves, short sleeves, jeans, the whole lot. Everything was over sized from sweat shirts to dodgy perm hairstyle. I was in my early teens towards the end of the eighties so I just managed to capture the "beauty" of that decade. I still remember my jeans jacket, neon T-shirt, acid washed jeans and a very bad hair style.

Bad style wasn't the only thing the eighties brought us Syrians. That period introduced a totally foreign dish to Syrian cuisine, Kabseh.

I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there trough the eighties till I was 15 before we moved back to Syria. There was a huge exodus of Syrians to Saudi in the late seventies and early eighties caused by the oil boom in the Gulf and bad economical times in Syria. I can safely say that every Syrian family had at least a member moving to Saudi Arabia for a certain period of time time.

I remember when we used to go home on summer holiday we used to bring Basmati rice and Kabseh spices with us to cook a big family feast in my grandparents' house. We were not alone in that, every other Syrian family had similar occasions in the summer months. Slowly Kabseh became a stable dish on the Syrian table. It became so integrated in the cuisine that a Uni friend of mine, who was from another city, thought Kabseh is a traditional Damascene dish.

Kabseh is the national dish of Saudi Arabia. It is simple but extremely addictive. It is spicy rice pilaf served with meat. You can cook the meat with the rice or separately. I prefer the latter.

Two things differentiate Kabseh from any other Byriani-like dish: dry lime and the special spice mix of cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, galangal and more dry lime. You can buy ready made Kabseh spice mix from any Middle Eastern supermarket.

Here is my Kabseh recipe:

Basmati rice 1.5 cups
Chicken stock 1.5 cups
Water 1.5 cups
Two Tomatoes
One medium Onion sliced
One chopped green chilli
Sliced pepper 1tbs
Sliced Carrot 1tbs
Kabseh spice mix 1tbs
Dry lime 4-5

Wash your rice and soak in cold water for 20 min.

Start by sweating the onions in vegetable oil. Add the chilli, carrot and peppers. Gently crush the dry lime to allow cooking water to get in. Add the lime with the spice mix to the pot. Grate your tomatoes or put them in a food processor then add them and cook for few minutes then add the stock and water and season well.

Drain the rice and add to the mix. Bring back to boil. Stir the rice once and turn the heat down. Let cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with grilled chicken and salad or yoghurt.


مترجم سوري said...

ما بحبها:(
جربت الكوكسوسي شي مرة؟
او الطاجين ؟
اكلتين فخمين تماما.

chow and chatter said...

that looks great and thanks so much for the history i wish I had a middle eastern store near me sob sob Rebecca

Kano said...

@ Omniah

You don't like it because you didn't try my Kabseh ;)

I love Tajen and couscous. I cook four or five different Tajen dishes.

Kano said...

@ Rebecca

Thank you very much. Where about do you live? you must have a middle eastern supermarket close by!

Anonymous said...

This looks utterly delicious - I have seen Kasbeh in a few shops but have never really understood what to do with it. That photo is making me hungry!

Kano said...

@ gastrogeek

How did the stall go yesterday? You are taking one of the days on the Covent Garden, aren't you? I wanted to but there was loads of paperwork to do and I don't have the time.

Regarding the Kabseh spice mix, if you have a choice between more than one brand go for "Abedo" and don't forget the dry lime. The problem with the Kabseh spice mix is you can't use it for anything else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kano- sadly the stall didn't happen due to various bureaucratic circumstances. Am planning to do it soon in the near future though, and to give all the money to a wide-reaching charity like MSF or Oxfam. Will keep you posted as to when that will be. Am doing the Covent Garden stall on the 13th August, so do drop by if you are around.

Will definitely go for the "Abedo" brand, thanks for the tip off - you see, that's why your blog is so important, how else would I ever know that kind of information?!(I will also be sure to remember the dry lime).

Allie said...

Oh, thanks for reminding me about the dry limes. I have billions of them and always forget how much I really love the flavour they add to things! That rice looks delicious!

SimplyHeavenFood said...

Hi Kano!!
Kabseh is one of my favorite dishes! I just love it.
It takes me home, because I love my mother’s Kabseh.

Your Kabseh looks just like hers. I defiantly have to try it. Thank you so much for sharing.

Kano said...

@ Gastrogeek
I will do my best to drop by to both stalls if I can.

@ Allie
What else do use dry lime for? As you know they are not native to Syrian food and I only use them in Kabseh. They use them in few Iraqi dishes but I didn't try to cook any.

Thank you for the nice comments as always. Do you cook it in America?

Allie said...

Sometimes I use them to flavour rice, or when I need a change of pace, I'll put a few in the cooking water of pasta. My favourite thing to use them in is soups, though. Here's a couple links for applications I've used them in (apparently I really like them w/ eggplant, and sometimes I use the pre-crushed ones that you can spoon out of the package instead of the whole ones):





I'll start using it more in my cooking now that you've reminded me of it. I think spices sometimes go in rotations w/ me - I'll be really obsessed with one for a while, then the next obsession makes me forget everything else. Lately it's been Aleppo pepper. But there's no reason not to use both! Again, thanks for the reminder!

Zara Choudhury said...

Hi Kano!

I made this last night and it was delicious!! It's the first time I've ever eaten kabseh and hubby said it was good!

The rice was slightly too soft - should I use a little less water next time? Hubby found it a little spicy, I thought it was perfect. I used a normal green chilli (you know, the Indian ones) but hubby thinks I should have used an Arabic chilli. Which one should I have used?

Kano said...

@Dubai bride
Rice cooking time and the amount of water required varies depeding on the type of rice and how it was processed during production. Try less water next time and see what happens.

You were right about the chillies. The Indian green variety is the one used in Saudi Arabi.

Anonymous said...

As for the dry limes, do you break them open during the cooking or do you just barely crack them and cook them whole? That always confuses me!

Kano said...


It is up to you and how strong you like the taste to be. In my parents house we just pierced the limes and cooked them whole. Now, as my wife loves the taste, I pretty much crush them before cooking.

Samah said...

hey kano! I am intrigued with your way of doing kabseh, because it is so different than mine! I learned it from my jordanian sister-in-law. I would love to share the recipe with you if you would like a new take on kabseh :) I will definitely try your way of cooking it sometime!

Kano said...


Please send me your recipe or post it on your blog. I am always up for trying new ways of doing things.

Post a Comment